Toni Randolph is the editor for New Audiences for MPR News.
I'm a fan of downtown shopping. Don't get me wrong; I love mall and outlet shopping, too. But I grew up shopping in big, downtown department stores.
There always seemed to be something new, different, bigger or better at the downtown stores. At least, there used to be. But shopping has changed.
Maybe the change started 50-plus years ago, when Southdale Center opened in Edina as the first covered shopping center, starting a revolution of indoor shopping. But even mall shopping has changed in recent years. The Internet has made shopping so easy that I don't even have to leave home to get that little black dress.
I wasn't surprised by the announcement that Macy's is closing its downtown St. Paul store. It's not because I'm psychic or have been closely following retail news — although I was aware that Macy's contractual obligation to keep the store open had reached its end. It was really my experience as a shopper that told me Macy's would not be in St. Paul much longer.
As an avid shopper, I've watched stores close in several cities where I've lived. Often I would notice changes before there was any announcement about a closing. Stores didn't seem to have as much stock as in the past. They started to look a little empty, with more floor space than there used to be. It was all very subtle.
I've worked and shopped in downtown St. Paul since 2003. I shopped at Marshall Field's until 2006, when I noticed expanding floor space and dwindling stock. Then Macy's took over, and the stock appeared to grow again — though with fewer of the upscale items I'd found at Marshall Field's.
Then Macy's changed the layout of the store, putting dresses here and coats there and foundations in another place and the children's department somewhere else. The St. Paul store seemed to be the step-child, lacking the selection of name brands available at other Twin Cities Macy's.
Then, a couple of years ago, one of the cosmetics lines, Shiseido, disappeared from the St. Paul store. And while the cosmetics department was redesigned so that the extra counter space wasn't so obvious, I noticed, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. And recently there's been more empty floor space in cosmetics and jewelry, in hosiery and other departments, too.
I regularly cruised through the St. Paul Macy's and was surprised by how often departments were moved. I began to wonder if that was an attempt to confuse shoppers. Perhaps we wouldn't notice that there was less stock available if the departments were moved to a different floor or to a different part of the store? Or maybe the layout changes were designed to make or keep the store more interesting.
I don't know the rationale, but I know I'm sad to see Macy's closing. Despite the lack of upscale items and the limited stock overall, it was convenient — for me, anyway. I could run in and grab a last-minute gift, a new sweater or pantyhose in an emergency. I could also return something from one of my other shopping forays.
And I still want to try on my little black dresses before I buy them. I can't do that on the Internet, and soon I won't be able to do it in downtown St. Paul. As planners and developers and civic leaders consider what to do next, I hope they'll keep me and my shopping habit in mind.